Supreme Court aligns with trial court in dog-attack case

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed a trial court judge’s finding that the city of Evansville and its animal control division are not liable in a dog attack that seriously injured a boy.

Siding with Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl A. Heldt, the Supreme Court found that the Indiana Court of Appeals was in error when it reversed Judge Heldt’s decision.

In the case of Misty D. Davis v. Animal Control - City of Evansville, et al., No. 82S01-1102-CV-77, Misty Davis filed a complaint against the city and its animal control division in 2007, two years after a Rottweiler attacked her six-year-old son. Davis claimed that animal control “was well aware of this dog’s violent propensities based upon numerous prior attacks by this dog,” yet failed to protect her son from the animal.

The trial court found that the city defendants were entitled to law enforcement immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which provides immunity to governmental entities for any loss resulting from the failure to enforce a law. Davis appealed that decision, claiming law enforcement immunity did not apply because the complaint is not based on the defendants’ failure to enforce the law but rather on their failure to follow their own procedures for determining whether an animal is dangerous as set forth in the Evansville Animal Control Ordinance. The Court of Appeals majority agreed. Judge James Kirsch dissented.

In reversing the trial court’s decision, the COA relied on the Supreme Court decision in Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278 (Ind. 1994), limited on other grounds, Benton v. City of Oakland City, 721 N.E.2d 224, 231 (Ind. 1999). In that case, the Supreme Court considered whether the failure of an emergency dispatcher to send an ambulance to a house fire despite a department policy stating that medics would be dispatched to all fire calls where someone was thought to be inside fell within the parameters of law enforcement immunity.

In Mullin, the Supreme Court concluded that the scope of  enforcement is limited to activities in which a governmental entity or its employees compel or attempt to compel the obedience of another to laws, rules or regulations, or sanction or attempt to sanction a violation thereof. Because the dispatcher in Mullin was not doing any of those things, the claim was not barred by the law enforcement provision.

“This was not the correct way to apply Mullin,” the Supreme Court stated of the COA reversal in Davis. “Mullin did not hold that there was no law enforcement immunity because city employees did not follow procedures; it held that there was no law enforcement immunity because in responding to a fire emergency, the city was not engaged in law enforcement.”

The Supreme Court stated that a dog with the same name had attacked someone before Davis’ son was attacked, but the owner’s address and name were different in both cases; therefore, it’s not certain whether the dog previously picked up and held temporarily by the animal control division is the same one that attacked Davis’ son.

Holding that the plaintiff's claim does constitute an allegation that the city defendants failed to enforce the law, the Supreme Court ruled Davis is not entitled to collect damages from the defendants.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. So the prosecutor made an error and the defendants get a full remedy. Just one short paragraph to undo the harm of the erroneous prosecution. Wow. Just wow.

  2. Wake up!!!! Lawyers are useless!! it makes no difference in any way to speak about what is important!! Just dont tell your plans to the "SELFRIGHTEOUS ARROGANT JERKS!! WHO THINK THEY ARE BETTER THAN ANOTHER MAN/WOMAN!!!!!!

  3. Looks like you dont understand Democracy, Civilized Society does not cut a thiefs hands off, becouse now he cant steal or write or feed himself or learn !!! You deserve to be over punished, Many men are mistreated hurt in many ways before a breaking point happens! grow up !!!

  4. It was all that kept us from tyranny. So sad that so few among the elite cared enough to guard the sacred trust. Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law. Sophocles No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor. Theodore Roosevelt That was the ideal ... here is the Hoosier reality: The King can do no wrong. Legal maxim From the Latin 'Rex non potest peccare'. When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal. Richard Nixon

  5. So men who think they are girls at heart can use the lady's potty? Usually the longer line is for the women's loo, so, the ladies may be the ones to experience temporary gender dysphoria, who knows? Is it ok to joke about his or is that hate? I may need a brainwash too, hey! I may just object to my own comment, later, if I get myself properly "oriented"